The disability market is the third largest market in the United States at $490 million; however, this community is also one of the largest unbanked populations. Currently, banks are not as accessible and inclusive as they could be, both onsite and online. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) calls for equal access to services, which includes all aspects of banking. Providing banking services effectively for individuals with a disability will not only benefit the disability community but banks themselves.
Online banking is becoming more prevalent. However, when online banking is not accessible, people with disabilities have no choice but to bank in person, onsite or over the phone. However, this is not without expense to banks. “Calls handled by agents typically cost about $4 per contact, while the cost per contact online is astonishingly lower: $0.10 to $0.15. Ultimately, banks that can shift between 5 and 20 percent of their call volume from agents to the Web and Voice Response Units can save as much as $25 million per year.” On the flipside, when banks provide accessible online services, they save on the costs of assisting customers with disabilities by phone or in person. Nevertheless, only a mere 5% of the largest North American companies are making efforts to connect with consumers with disabilities. As a result these outliers are outperforming their competitors in the long-term.
A second cost-eliminaing factor of making online bankng accessible is it can lower your risk of expensive settlements for violating anti-discrimination legislation. Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division expresses that, “Individuals who have disabilities must not be denied equal access to the services offered by financial institutions because of their disability.” People with disabilities should have the same access to the same services as another person would.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides the accessibility standards under five formal titles that cover different areas of public life, each of which relates directly to banking.
Under Title I
Accessibility is a big part of becoming employed and employers with fifteen or more employees, –private or public–must comply with the ADA in order to ensure access to any qualified employee. If accessibility is mandatory for the majority of employers then this access should in theory carry over to accessibility in general. Employees should provide their employers equal access to an equal opportunity and in turn give all people access to all services provided but this is unfortunately not always the case.
Under Title II
Any service provided to one person must be available to all. This means that a place of service first must be accessible in order for that place to provide their service. A bank is a place of service and therefore obligated to provide equal access to their service(s). Online banking would be included in this; online banking should be accessible to all as all services are to asxccessible to all and online banking is indeed a service.
Under Title III
Transportation is required to be accessible under the ADA; however, this is not the case. Transportation may not be a service provided by banks but it is one of the greatest barriers to people with disabilities participating in society, including banking. The opportunity of at-home online banking eliminates the need to have transportation to get the financial services and assistance that the individual may need. However, without accessible transportation and access to online banking, this can lead to the person without access to be a part of the unbanked population.
Under Title IV
Telephone and internet companies have to provide a nationwide system of interstate and intrastate telecommunications that allows individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. This mandates that communication via the systems available in the 1990’s (which have since progressed) but it lacks any updates on mandates regarding current systems of communication. Nevertheless, the web has become a main staple when it comes to communication and the Department of Justice has deemed online services as covered by the ADA.
Another benefit of at-home, digital banking opportunities is it eliminates the need to explain one’s disability to someone, especially if one’s disability does not interfere with the individual’s navigation of the basics of a banking system. A person with a disability should not need to explain their case every time they would prefer to access their own banking account and ensuring accessible online banking could provide this.
Through the compliance process between banks and individuals with disabilities, there is a qualitative lens through which banking is pursued. Rather than simply tracking numbers, banks and their customers ensure that the transition to online banking is seamless for all parties involved by prioritizing the quality of technology to fit the needs of all customers with or without a disability. Ultimately, by making their website accessible, banks would make the process of banking more equitable and affordable for everyone.